Barry Booth: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — August 12, 2022

THE GREATEST SONGS OF THE 1960s THAT NO ONE HAS EVER HEARD

548) Barry Booth — “He’s Very Good With His Hands”

Before “The Lumberjack Song”, before “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, before Monty Python, there was an “ode to a shy but dexterous model maker who is taken by a girl, but more at home with his wooden trains and aeroplanes.” (http://www.popgeekheaven.com/music-discovery/lost-treasures-barry-booth-diversions). Michael Palin and Terry Jones collaborated with Barry Booth, writing the lyrics to “a commercial flop [that] over the years . . . has gained a cult following and a reputation as a lost classic of British psychedelic chamber pop.” (https://www.barryboothmusic.com/biography)

Pop Geek Heaven tell us that:

Barry Booth is a most unlikely artist to have recorded one of the great lost chamber pop albums of the ’60s. When . . . Diversions!, was released in 1968, he was already thirty years old and had never recorded an album or even a single as an artist. Indeed, he had never intended to record Diversions! either. He was merely hoping to place some of the songs with other artists. That is, until iconic British producer Tony Hatch (The Searchers, Petula Clark, Jackie Trent) fell in love with the material and insisted that Booth record the album. Further evidence of his reticence is the fact he never again recorded as an artist . . . . Booth’s roots were in classical music and he studied composition and piano at the Royal Academy of Music in the late ’50s. Though accomplished, he was not a virtuoso pianist and, following a stint in the National Service playing in military orchestras and dance bands, Booth began to work as the bandleader for Roy Orbison in the mid-’60s. While working with Orbison, he began to collaborate with two young actors and comedians, Michael Palin and Terry Jones, whom he had met while working as the musical director for the British television series Five O’Clock Club. Booth commissioned the future Pythons to write some lyrics which Booth would then set to music. The resulting songs provided the entirety of the material on Diversions!. Booth brought some of the songs to Orbison and later to Hatch. While Orbison passed, Hatch was charmed by both the material and by Booth’s restrained and heartfelt vocal style. He talked Booth into recording the songs himself, with Booth arranging and conducting and Hatch producing. . . . The lyrics are whimsical, typically narrative, and often reflect a British Music Hall sensibility. . . . Two singles were released . . . [including] “He’s Very Good With His Hands” b/w “The King’s Thing” . . . . [It did not] chart[], though [it] was played by John Peel’s on his popular Top Gear show. . . .

http://www.popgeekheaven.com/music-discovery/lost-treasures-barry-booth-diversions

BarryBooth.com adds:

[At] the Royal Academy of Music in London. . . . [Booth] studied composition, harmony . . . counterpoint . . . and pianoforte . . . while flouting the Academy’s rules by playing professionally in the city’s jazz clubs by night. . . . In the early 1960s he worked on back-to-back national pop tours, as a bandleader and piano player for various acts including . . . Roy Orbison . . . .

[H]e put his classical training at the service of one of the support acts when he offered a simple solution to a vocal harmony line they were having trouble figuring out. He proposed that they use an inverted pedal-point, sustaining a single high note in harmony with the descending melody line. The proposal was accepted and consequently can be heard in the verses of the Beatles’ early hit Please Please Me. (Many years later, Elvis Costello would remember noticing it as a 9 year old boy. As described in Craig Brown’s One Two Three Four, he ‘listened intently to the disc as his father played it over and over again. He was startled by the vocal harmony line; the second singer seemed to be singing the same note repeatedly against the lead singer.’)

Orbison, the original inspiration for that song, was sufficiently impressed by Booth’s abilities to hire him as his musical director and piano player in his backing band . . . taking him on tours of Europe and North America. Booth first entered the US illegally, smuggled by Orbison over the Canadian border in the boot of a car after a work permit had failed to arrive on time. Booth continued to serve Orbison in this position for several years, before going on to enjoy a long career as a highly versatile musical director, arranger, composer and pianist . . . .

Diversions! consisted of musical settings of fourteen lyrics he had commissioned from two young writers he’d worked with in television: Michael Palin and Terry Jones . . . . Pitching the songs to producer Tony Hatch in the hope of landing them with established singers, Booth had inadvertently landed a deal to record them himself. . . . [It] is an example of how ambitious and inventive popular music was becoming at the time . . . . It is uniquely charming, whimsical, often cryptic and sometimes slightly sinister . . . .

https://www.barryboothmusic.com/biography

“I saw him in the corner shop buying balsa-wood and glue, asking the assistant for model-kit number two. Then, happy as a sandman, run, running to his hobby-room. High above the pretty people busy making friends, busy making friends. He can build aeroplanes, make little wooden trains. That’s the life he understands. His scene is a shelf that he’s made by himself. For he’s very good with his hands. He’s very good, very very good, very good with his hands. There’s no need to laugh when you see him, ‘cause he’s very good with his hands. Hе’s very good, very very good, very good with his hands. I took a girl from Wimbledon to watch him make a chair. He seemed a little taken with the colour of her hair. Then, happy as a sandman, run, running from his hobby-room. She goes around the smartest places telling everyone, telling everyone he can build aeroplanes, make little wooden trains. That’s the life he understands. His scene is a shelf that he’s made by himself. But he’s very good with his hands. He’s very good, very very good, very good with his hands. There’s no need to laugh when you see him, ‘cause he’s very good with his hands. He’s very good, very very good, very good with his hands.”

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